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Black Tokyo on Black Panther

Last updated on February 23, 2019

I read Jamil Smith’s article, Super Powered – Black Panther Marks a Major Milestone for Culture, found in the February 19, 2018 issue of Time magazine a few days after viewing the movie Black Panther here in Japan. I’m in total agreement with Smith as he opines:

“Those of us who are not white have considerably more trouble not only finding representation of ourselves in mass media and other arenas of public life, but also finding representation that indicates that our humanity is multifaceted. Relating to characters onscreen is necessary not merely for us to feel seen and understood, but also for others who need to see and understand us. When it doesn’t happen, we are all the poorer for it. This is one of the many reasons Black Panther is significant.”

However, will the movie trump the colonist mindset of those like the 45th President of the United States? It wasn’t too many insults ago he flippantly dismissed 54 African nations as “shithole countries.” Smith says, “Black Panther is a movie about what it means to be Black in both America and Africa–and, more broadly, in the world. The film tackles not only present themes about race and identity but also issues affecting modern-day Black life.” As an American of African descent, I viewed Black Panther with a raised fist while exclaiming Black lives and images matter. On the other hand, I give a middle finger to those that want to keep their racist ways alive.

Smith points out that “in the midst of a regressive cultural and political moment fueled in part by the white-nativist movement, the very existence of Black Panther feels like resistance. It’s themes challenge institutional bias, its characters take unsubtle digs at oppressors, and its narrative includes prismatic perspectives on black life and tradition. The fact that Black Panther is excellent only helps.”

Black Panther celebrates Black beauty much as the Black Panther Party (BPP) was instrumental in promoting the “Black is Beautiful” movement. As international audiences flock to see the movie, I can’t help but think that the BPP wanted Black liberation from within the United States and abroad. The organization had active chapters and branches in Africa, France, Germany, Israel, and New Zealand in their quest for internationalization of the Black struggle. The BPP also urged Black Americans to embrace their African heritage,” as posited by Ebony F. in her Blavity article. I am extremely grateful that many in my Detroit neighborhood (Hazelwood and 12th Street) benefited from the 10-Point Platform of the Black Panther Party (BPP). One can find remnants of the BPP 10-Point Platform across America today.

Black Panther Japanese Trailer

HOWEVER, although I marvel at the BILLION dollar financial success of Black Panther; I wonder what’s in store when considering the bigger (global) picture? Here are two reactions from audiences in Korea and China:

What Koreans Think of Black Panther

What Chinese Think of Black Panther

What the Japanese Think of Black (Pink) Panther

But what about Japan? Tokyo Weekender writer, Tracy Jones, feels that the movie’s debut is arriving against a long history of blackface in the country. Japan Times columnist and author, Baye McNeil, posed the following question in his Black Eye column: Could ‘Black Panther’ change how Japanese view people of color? He writes:

“The film and the event got me to reflecting on why this film, a decidedly black film, has increased meaning to black people living abroad, particularly in countries like Japan where our numbers are relatively few and our image is invariably controlled by others, and decided to share some of those thoughts with you guys.”

Can Black Panther help change the mindset of those Japanese that have negative perceptions of Africa and those in the African Diaspora? Understanding that Te-Nehisi Coates and Roxane Gay, have worked to expunge Eurocentric misconceptions of Africa in the most recent Black Panther comics; what can done here in Japan to dispel the negative perceptions?

Black Panther is a movie about identity.

It was great to see “us” get together to view Black Panther in Tokyo, Yokohama, Osaka, and other cities across Japan. It was even better to witness children of Afro-Asian ancestry absorb the splendor of what Black Panther offers. The film was in stark contrast to the images of Blacks portrayed on Japanese television (both negative and positive), in foreign films, or in adverts to Save the brown or Black children or Help Africa.All are topics that Black Tokyo, Black Eye, and others have often written about.

The Afrofuturism portrayed in Black Panther is just as important now as it was back in the 60’s during my childhood. Smith concludes his article with, “Black Panther matters more, because he is our best chance for people of every color to see a black hero. That is its own kind of power.”

As much as I am not a fan of white savior movies which are often played in theaters across Japan, I am a fan of Blacks creating and controlling our own narratives for mass consumption. Understanding that “Wakanda is “a reimagining of what would have been possible if Africa had been allowed to realize itself for itself,”” as noted by Melvin Rogers in Dissent, the narrative that I speak of includes not only media portrayals, but collaborative efforts that will result in partnerships, products, jobs, and other opportunities that would benefit those that have found their piece of Wakanda here in Japan.

I am curious to see if the love of Black Panther will ultimately translate into those Wakandans in Japan sharing our precious resource(s) with those in the Diaspora? Is that the weapon needed to decimate certain institutional biases? Will the current tide of brotherly and sisterly love ease dialogue for bridging, restoring, reconnecting and reclaiming the Motherland and those of it? I am curious to know your thoughts! Black Panther and Black Power! Wakanda-ken Forever!

BONUS [contains spoilers]

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